In an increasingly secular, fragmented, and distracted culture, nothing brings Americans together quite like sports. On Sundays in September, more families worship at the altar of the NFL than at any church. This appeal, which cuts across all demographic and ideological lines, makes sports perhaps the last unifying mass ritual of our era, with huge numbers of people all focused on the same thing at the same moment. That timeless, live quality makes sports very powerful, and very lucrative. And the media spectacle around them is only getting bigger, brighter, and noisier.
More importantly, sports are sold as an oasis of community to a nation deeply divided: They are escapist, apolitical, the only tie that binds. In fact, precisely because they appear allegedly "above politics", sports are able to smuggle potent messages about inequality, patriotism, labor, and race to massive audiences. And as the wider culture works through shifting gender roles and masculine power, those anxieties are also found in the experiences of female sports journalists, athletes, and fans, and through the coverage of violence by and against male bodies. Sports, rather than being the one thing everyone can agree on, perfectly encapsulate the roiling tensions of modern American life.